Is This Bicycle
Built For Two?
"Oh, just 10 miles," she said nonchalantly, wiping the barely-existing sweat off her brow.
My jaw dropped in amazement, not just because I am one of those people who embarrassingly has a hard time riding a bike, but because she was about six months pregnant at the time.
And I have to admit that even though I'm all about exercising during pregnancy (and especially in need of it after a rather horrific 50+ pound weight gain with my last pregnancy), bike riding just strikes me as one of those off-limits activities during pregnancy, like rock climbing, hot tubbing, and parachuting.
But apparently, I was wrong.
Is bike riding safe during pregnancy?
"Exercising during pregnancy is something I recommend for all my patients to do, though there are certain activities that are safer for the pregnancy than others," comments Dr. Katherine Bolt, OB/GYN at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women. "The act of bike riding is not unsafe for a pregnancy but it is the associated risk of falling off of the bike and possible abdominal trauma that becomes the problem."
And while pregnancy may not be the prime time to start a new habit of bike riding, for mothers who know their way around the bike trail, a growing baby bump is no reason to hang up the bicycle for good. My sister-in-law, for example, continued riding her bike all the way up until eight months through her pregnancy, frequently riding 10 miles in her second trimester and scaling down to five miles in her third trimester. "I loved riding when I was pregnant," Lauren comments. "It really didn't bother me at all".
Pregnancy adaptations for bike riding
As Lauren found out, although she was able to ride her normal route early during her pregnancy, some adaptations may be necessary for mothers as they approach the second and third trimesters of their pregnancies.
"I tell my patients that riding a non-stationary bicycle is a safe form of exercise or entertainment until about 20 weeks along," says Dr. Bolt. "At this point in pregnancy, the uterus is so large (easily felt just below the belly button) that the bones in our pelvis can no longer provide much protection to the pregnancy should we fall. Additionally, 20 weeks is when the growing uterus finally causes our center of gravity to shift and this transition further increases our risk of falling." And not only can the shifting center of gravity affect women on bikes, but the baby bump itself may cause difficulty with maneuvering the bicycle.
The dangers of bike riding during pregnancy
Of course, like anything with pregnancy, there are some considerations to stay healthy and ensure the safety of both mother and baby. Here are a few tips for safe bike riding during pregnancy.
- Always ride with a partner. "I always made sure to ride with my husband," says Lauren. It's a good idea to ride with someone, just in case something happens — like a bad fall or a complication with the pregnancy. And always carry a cell phone and keep plenty of water on hand to stay hydrated (and connected).
- Watch out for dogs. One of the concerns with bike riding is not just staying on the bike and keeping good balance but hidden dangers, such as dogs or other animals running into the bike. Lauren had to be careful to keep a leash on their dog, for fear of the dog running into the bike's wheels while Lauren was riding.
- Use a cart for other children. If you have other children, consider investing in a cart instead of an attached seat to the bicycle, as a moving child can cause you to lose your balance as well. Lauren found that having her daughter in the attached seat became too much for her. "Her kicking and the baby's kicking just made me worried that I was going to fall," comments Lauren.
- Use precautions. While exercising is all well and good and bike riding can be a fun activity, accidents can definitely still happen. My husband's aunt actually fell off a bike at eight months along and predictably, was very worried about it. The trauma of falling off of a bike can cause internal bleeding, or even lead to a placental abruption, a potentially fatal complication in which the placenta actually tears away from the uterine wall. If an accident does happen, be sure to touch base with your health care provider and be on the lookout for any potential complications, such as bleeding, abdominal pain, contractions, fluid leaking or decreased movement of the baby.
- Know your limits. Bottom line when it comes to riding a bike during pregnancy? Know your body and use caution. "Until somebody creates a protective baby bump pad or helmet that we can wear with our other protective bike gear, I think the risks of riding a bike after 20 weeks of pregnancy outweigh the benefits," cautions Dr. Bolt.